Free association: John Hope Franklin

by CarlD

There’s a nice recollection of John Hope Franklin by fellow historian Alvis Dunn in this week’s Carrboro Citizen. Dunn touches on JHF’s excellence and influence, of course, and focuses on his open mind and many associations, “seeking out diverse ways of seeing in order to further deepen his own,” as Dunn says of kindred spirit Frank Porter Graham.

Thinking about Undine’s dream on the value of blogging, this is something I would add: seeking out diverse ways of seeing in order to deepen our own.

Dunn loses the focus a bit when he wants JHF’s associations with communists (at a time when this took some courage) to be about “articulating ideas unpopular with those that run society. That was, in fact, the essence of his history.” And it’s true that he did so, but to call this the essence of his history risks reducing him to a dogmatist, a partisan hack, or perhaps a mere contrarian. Fortunately Dunn goes on to say that “Dr. Franklin’s research was deep and full, impeccably documented and unassailable as to his interpretation of sources, assuring that his work could never be successfully attacked on grounds of scholarship.” And this is good historical and human practice: to articulate well-founded ideas without regard to their popularity or sympathetic resonance, not for the sake of pissing off powerful people but for the sake of getting it right and deepening our ways of seeing. I take this to be why John Hope Franklin’s work touched so many.


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